Planning a carol service? Here are four things we have found matter

We are beginning to get into the mode of thinking about Christmas. We have various plans to reach out and will be looking to promote what is going on through social and print media advertising. We have done our nativity video to be played in a service, we are planning an outreach event that will end in a local café in town and we will be holding a traditional carol service too.

Whilst we might get a handful of curious Muslims coming in to see what is going on at these events, typically we don’t expect to see many. Christmas is not a prime time for evangelism nor the open door for the gospel that many others feel it is in our immediate neighbourhood. However, more broadly – among those who are not South Asian – we have often found people coming in to see what we are doing.

Particularly with our carol service, where we hope folks will invite friends and others who are looking to get into a Christmassy mood might pop in, we have learnt that a few key things are really very important. Whatever we might like to do, as seasoned believers who have attended dozens of carol services, we want to have an eye on those coming in. Here, in no particular order, are some important things to remember.

Keep it traditional

I know Evangelical Churches have informality and ‘realness’ drilled into them as far as outreach and accessibility in the normal run of things goes. And I think those things are important. But at Christmas, people want tradition. They want traditional carols with traditional formats. Innovations might keep us interested, and make things feel fresh for us, but our experience has been that at Christmas, most folks want the same old, same old traditional stuff. As far as an evangelistic carol service goes, give the people what they want.

Sing what people know

I have no doubt, in some places, cracking out Adam Lay Ybounden would be well received. But when you’re expecting everyone to sing along, and nobody knows it, you are asking for trouble. Likewise, I know Getty and Townend have written some great, modern carols. If you know only your church folks will be there, then sing away. But it isn’t that helpful – no matter how good the words might be – to invite people to a carol service when they don’t really know any of the carols. Most people are coming for a sing-song and won’t thank you very much if they don’t know any of the songs. Stick with the classics and maybe even tolerate some of those Evangelicals like to turn their nose up at because people know them, three kings from orient and all.

Prefer organ/piano to guitar/drums

On a Sunday, we might be glad to sing to a range of instruments for all sorts of reasons. But at a carol service, a band in skinny jeans singing with their eyes closed in that way only a modern worship band can just does not hit the right notes. We might, for all sorts of legitimate reasons, eschew the pipe organ for most of our meetings, but at your carol service, we have found it pays to bring it back (pressing that button on the electric keyboard is adequate).

Decorate well

We Reformed types can be a bit puritanical about the inside of church buildings. We are so keen to avoid any hint of Catholicism that we like our chapels painted white, no frills, without decor. But at Christmas, certainly for an evangelistic event, candles and Christmas decor are well received. We may not like it – and I’m not suggesting we have to embrace robes and censers to waft around incense – but some candles in the dark, a Christmas tree with some lights and a bit of festive decoration goes a long way.